Almond blossom /ÑITO SALAS

Almond blossom / ÑITO SALAS

Climate change makes almond trees in the south of Spain bloom earlier

Thirty years ago the blossom appeared around Valentine's Day in mid-February but it is getting earlier and earlier, claims Malaga botanist Enrique Salvo

IGNACIO LILLO

Almond trees have started to bloom earlier in winter. This year, around 10 January, trees in Los Montes de Malaga were in full bloom but even in late December the buds were starting open, said Enrique Salvo, a botanist and professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Malaga (UMA), who is studying the phenomenon and its ecological and economic impacts.

"Each year we are seeing that almond trees bloom earlier than was normal before. Thirty years ago they bloomed around Valentine's Day in mid-February and it has been getting earlier and earlier," said Salvo. The areas that are budding earliest are in the Guadalhorce and Guadalmedina valleys.

The flowering is closely linked to daylight hours and the winter solstice, when the tree’s biological clock triggers this phase. "For there to be a normal development of the female and male parts of the plant there must be an accumulation of hours of cold, first, and heat, later,” Salvo said.

"The almond tree is the closest, most immediate indicator of climate change that we can all observe. Citizen science can play a key role in monitoring and detecting anomalies that may occur,” he added.

But the early blooms can lead to problems. There are not enough pollinators (insects, in particular beetles) about in mid-winter which the trees need to produce nuts.

Farmers should use less pesticides to avoid killing off the beetle population. Salvo said, "We must draw the attention of farmers, who are using excessive amounts pesticides and insecticides. The almond tree is not only useful for humans but to the entire ecosystem.”